Monday, August 28, 2006

Don't send a child to defend you, Senator 

When my letter last week to the St. Cloud Times drew enough heat to get a provocative reaction from the ex-mayor (btw, John, I've decided that needs to be on the masthead), I expected the Clark campaign to send out some kind of reply. Sure enough the reply came (and on a Sunday, unlike my letter and that of my wife's, both of which came out on the low-readership Saturday -- I smell a rat).

I'd go for full frontal fisking, but the letterwriter is a student (I checked the email lists) here at the university and a DFL delegate. So if she ever should be in one of my courses I would not like to have said anything negative about her. But whether she does or does not, a little economics lesson for this student is in order. She writes:
All of our lives are enriched by tax dollars.
I wish to understand what she means. Tax dollars are collected by the government under threat of force. Thieves do the same thing; the only difference is that thieves are sent to jail for doing so -- government officials who do so seek reelection for "enriching us". Is it enriching to take money from one person and give it to another? Was Robin Hood enriching lives?

How about Hezbollah? The Financial Times notes today that that group has a building arm that is re-creating southern Lebanon (it has the lovely name "Construction Jihad.") In one case government destroys your income by confiscating it even before it's in your hands and then gives it back to you. In the other case government (at least part of it, despite the Lebanese government's claims of inability to control the Hezbollah party within it) throws bombs at Israel and then rebuilds the country leveled in response to the provocation. Is this "enriching", Ms. Michel?

Well, perhaps that's not exactly what you meant. You added in the next sentence,
Schools, roads, law enforcement, community programs � we all benefit.
But to what extent? If you should come to an economics class that discusses public goods, we can talk about a tax-price one pays for a public good one receives. One problem with public goods is that we all have to consume the same amount. If the tax-price paid is greater than the benefit received, we are forced to consume something we would not otherwise choose. (Spot and Craig, please note.) Economic choice is about net benefits, not total benefits. If I force you to trade me $10 for an ice cream sandwich on a January evening, you benefit from the sandwich but you're probably still unhappy.

Here's the problem most of us have, Ms. Michel, with the stadium and Tarryl Clark's vote. You can point to there being some benefits as well as some costs. Hey, I teach cost-benefit analysis in my classes, and you should try it! But the question I raise with Senator Clark's vote is: Who gets to decide if the costs are greater or less than the benefits -- the Minnesota Legislature? Or the residents of Hennepin County who will mostly pay those costs? So when you state...
The people of Hennepin County were Clark's priority when she supported this legislation because it would put more police on the streets and provide kids with positive safe activities in their communities. question is, who in Hennepin asked her? And by her action did she just leave us more vulnerable to the rapacious Pogemiller and his tax committee to force St. Cloud to tax itself to pay for something a majority of OUR taxpayers do not want? (Particularly now that he can't hide behind Ellenbecker's thirst for tax dollars.) "First they came for Hennepin, but I said nothing, for I do not live in Hennepin..."

Note to Senator Clark -- this is a question you should answer. The student's letter had more holes than the Viking offensive line last year. Next time, write the letter yourself.